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U.N. talks scheduled to take place next week to avoid an arms race in space are being postponed after Russia insisted it needs more time to prepare, according to two people briefed on the developments.

Expectations have been high that the newly established “open-ended working group” can help international fashion norms rein in what many see as unrestrained military competition. United States officials have said that the talks could lay the groundwork for an eventual ban or moratorium on destructive anti-satellite tests.

On Wednesday, Moscow informed the United Nations. Committee on Disarmament, which was preparing to begin the talks in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 14, that it is not ready to move forward, said the people.

“The meeting has been pushed back,” said a State Department official who was not authorized to speak publicly. The people said the Russians asked for the initial United Nations discussions to be delayed until May.

The United Nations Conference on Disarmament didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The Chinese and Russian missions to the United Nations also didn’t immediately respond.

The request for postponement comes amid a deepening crisis in United States-Russia relations as Moscow masses more than 100,000 troops and scores of heavy equipment on the border with Ukraine.

In December, the United Nations General Assembly established the space working group and was backed by 163 nations, which all agreed they were “seriously concerned about the possibility of an arms race in outer space.”

The United Kingdom put forward the resolution also expressed concern about “the fragility of the space environment and the challenges to the long-term sustainability of outer space activities, in particular the impact of space debris.”

The process was given a two-year mandate.

The venue is considered the biggest test yet of whether a global consensus can be reached on keeping the peace in space after Russia’s destructive anti-satellite test last year created thousands of pieces of orbital debris and sparked international calls for a ban on such tests.

Moscow was also criticized for positioning a satellite carrying a weapon close to a United States government satellite in 2020.

“This open-ended working group seems like the place to start having really comprehensive discussions on it,” a senior State Department official recently told POLITICO.

The official counted on both China and Russia to come to the negotiating table next week, even though they did not back the proposal.

“Despite voting against the resolution … my sense is they will show up in Geneva,” the official, who agreed to discuss the diplomatic planning only on the condition of anonymity, said earlier this month.

There are relatively few limits on activities in space. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 bars weapons of mass destruction in space and outlaws military installations on the moon but did not anticipate thousands of satellites operated by dozens of nations and private entities, including many operated by military adversaries.

“So one of the big issues we’ve discovered is a gap in trying to create norms of responsible behavior related to the interaction of security satellites, national security satellites in outer space,” the senior State Department official said.

“There is a huge debate about responsible behavior in space and a lot of this is coming out of the military because the United States is disproportionately dependent on space assets relative to every other major space power,” said Saadia Pekkanen, co-founder of the Space Policy and Research Center at the University of Washington.

“The cooperation of China, Russia, and India will be vital,” said Namrata Goswami, a space analyst and former adviser to the Indian Ministry of Defense and U.S. Air Force, noting they all possess anti-satellite weapons.

“The reason that these talks are important is that they will start the process of testing the ground of whether space norms and principles can be developed,” she added, “given the caginess of some states to bind themselves into agreements that may limit their own national security considerations.”

“The wild card will be the Russians and Chinese,” said Victoria Samson, Washington director for the Secure World Foundation, which has convened discussions on the issue with Chinese and Russian space experts. “They did agree to participate but we’ll see.”

U.N. colleagues also informed her that next week’s session had been postponed after Russia said it would not participate.

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Alice is the Chief Editor with relevant experience of three years, Alice has founded Galaxy Reporters. She has a keen interest in the field of science. She is the pillar behind the in-depth coverages of Science news. She has written several papers and high-level documentation.


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